Saturday, December 25, 2010

Learn About Steaks: Top Round! (and "How to Make Beef Jerky!")

Okay, so basically, if you were to slice a cow once, in order to just cut its back legs off (but all in one piece), the piece with the back legs is called the "Round." So, the Top Round is pretty much from the top of that piece. I think kind of on where the hips are. Which is also where the cow's rear-end is. They can make that part of a cow into steaks or roast, or both!

I originally pulled a Top Round steak out of the freezer because J and I were going to make breakfast burritos with steak in them. At the beginning of my research I learned that since they're not fatty, Top Round steaks end up pretty dry if you try to cook them in a pan. Instead, Top Round steaks can be cooked with a slow, moist method, or, people commonly slice Top Round thin and dry it out, to make beef jerky! So I put it in the refrigerator to defrost, and we used a Sirloin steak for the burritos instead.

Making beef jerky is simple! I combined a few recipes to make my own recipe.

After the Top Round steak was defrosted in my fridge, I trimmed all of the visible fat. Fat doesn't dehydrate (it just spoils) so that's why Top Round works well for jerky: it's already lean.

I put the meat in the freezer for about an hour, just to make it firm. Then I sliced* it as thin as I could. When people make beef jerky, they usually try to cut meat against the grain. But, you can also cut it with the grain and it still works.

I wasn't very good at slicing it. I ended up with a lot of little pieces and only a couple big pieces.

Then, I seasoned the slices. When you're making beef jerky, salt is a helper! Salt helps the drying process. I seasoned our steaks with: salt, garlic powder, onion powder, brown sugar, honey, and paprika. I put the steaks all in a quart freezer bag and I added some vinegar. I mushed the meat around to make a marinade. (The picture below is pre-mush to show how much vinegar I added.)

I put the bag of meat back in my fridge to soak up tasty, tasty flavors.

NOTE: People online really like adding soy sauce and worcestershire sauce for their marinades. Most of the recipes I saw online contained both. Apple cider vinegar is also popular. Be brave! Try something fun. Worcestershire sauce contains soy sauce, and soy sauce naturally contains a lot of MSG, so I didn't use them.**

You can marinade your meat for as little as a few hours or up to a day. My day was busy, so I left my meat alone for 23 hours.

Then, I took the meat out of the fridge and put it on trays in my dehydrator. (No overlapping, so the air can move around.) I ground pepper on the strips of meat. I stacked the trays in my dehydrator, set the temperature at 145 degrees F, and plugged it in.

NOTE: Most recipes online recommend spraying your dehydrator trays with nonstick spray first. We don't use nonstick spray at our house, so I didn't do this. If you use nonstick spray, I really recommend using it when you make beef jerky because I had to scrub, scrub, scrub my dehydrator trays.

NOTE: Be liberal in your use of pepper and seasonings! I thought I was putting way too much on, and my jerky came out tasting barely peppered (or seasoned!) at all.

The recipe that I was following that said 145 degrees recommended cooking for 8-10 hours, until the jerky was brown and would bend "like a willow" but not break. My jerky was actually done after about 5 hours. I think it was because I sliced the pieces pretty thin and I didn't have that much drying all at once.

NOTE: You can make beef jerky without a dehydrator! You just use your oven at a low temperature, and prop the door open with a wooden spoon or something, so that the air can circulate. If you're doing this, maybe Google it, though, because there may be other special instructions for oven jerky. (Every site I looked at mentioned ovens too, though, so it's a respectable alternative.)

When my jerky was done, I let it cool a bit and then I put it in a freezer bag to keep it from becoming stale.

Results: We've been eating jerky over the past few days and it is fantastic! "Em, this jerky's really good. The more I eat it, the more I like it," J told me. I had no idea how simple it was to make beef jerky! We will definitely be making a lot more in the future.

Your homework:
1. Point to your "Top Rounds." (HA ha!)
2. Cook a Top Round steak! (Remember, slow and moist, or JERKY!) If you make beef jerky, give yourself an automatic "A" for this assignment.

* See my knife in the pictures? It is a Cutco "Trimmer" knife, and it cost like $60. I bought it because one of my classmates "just needed to practice" his sales pitch, and "it was okay if you don't buy anything--even just watching helps." Lies! If you say no, they try to sell something cheaper, and the sales pitch just goes on forever. BUT, seriously, if I could afford to, I would buy the entire giant, super spendy set. Because I love, love, love this knife! My one Cutco knife is definitely my favorite item in the kitchen. It cuts perfectly. It's like, the Dyson vacuum of kitchen knives: you think you're fine until you try one and then you realize it has always been missing from your life.

** Actually, all of the big commercial brands of beef jerky contain MSG. Most of them don't even hide it at all. They list monosodium glutamate in the ingredients. I just can't in good conscience eat that stuff anymore. Sometimes we'll see places advertising "home made beef jerky!" and I'll feel hopeful, but I've never seen a brand that J could actually eat. It has been a fun treat to have beef jerky around. J really likes it.


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